As many Pagans start to both anticipate and dread (due to the “silly season” mainstream press coverage) the coming of the Samhain / Día de los Muertos season, mainstream Americans are planning to make the holiday of Halloween bigger than ever.
“Americans are ready to spend far more on Halloween this year than last, an estimated $5.8 billion, and they aren’t leaving their pets out of the fun. A survey by National Retail Federation (NRF) showed the single largest expense will be on costumes for children, adults and pets. ”This year, people are expected to embrace Halloween with even more enthusiasm,” Matt Shay, the chief executive of the NRF said in a statement, noting that the pagan holiday has given Americans a welcome mental break from the stress of the economic doldrums … The total represents a 17.7 percent increase from last year and will be roughly on par with 2008 levels, according to the poll of 9,291 people.”
This grand confluence of spooky escapism, retail therapy, and old traditions is most keenly felt in Salem, Massachusetts, where real Witches mingle and party with a horde of tourists who invade and create something akin to a second Mardi Gras.
“…what began as a local tourist draw is gradually morphing into a nationally (and internationally) recognized seasonal festival. For better or worse, this change from cheesy wax-works and trial re-enactments into a massive cultural (and money-making) multi-week event is partially due to the emergence of Witches and modern Pagans injecting a sense of the sacred (and the psychic) into the proceedings. It may never be officially called a Samhain festival, but for all intents and purposes this is America’s tribute to Summer’s End.”
Some are saying this is a sign that the economy is improving, or at least stabilizing, since Halloween isn’t as important as Christmas, or other calendar events during the year.
“If we were in a really horrible time, I’d expect there’d be a contraction there,” said Mike Slotkin, an associate professor of economics at Florida Tech in Melbourne. “Certainly, Halloween is important in our national identity, but I don’t think it would withstand very poor economic conditions.”
But I think this undervalues the importance of Halloween, especially in bad times. I think it’s the only modern holiday where everyone can be someone else, engage in role-reversals, forget their troubles for a moment, safely express their fears, and embrace a childish glee that’s approved for both kids and adults. I don’t know if Halloween is completely recession-proof, but I think it’s far more resilient than anyone could possible imagine (it should be noted that cut-backs in 2009 were on candy, not on costumes or parties). For better or for worse, this holiday has moved into second place in the United States (and many other Western nations), and Pagans who hold this time as holy could certainly benefit from this good will, even if it does make for some horrid journalism for a few weeks.